Paul Lintier

Beauclair, France

“Alarm!”

” What ? ”

“Come on, up you get!”

“What’s the time?”

“Don’t know. . . . It’s still dark.”

“All right, then, we’ll get up. Hutin, come on, get up!”

I shook Hutin, who growled in answer:

“All right ! Oh, Lord, I was so comfortable there!”

The noise of shuffling straw filled the barn.

“What’s the time?” repeated somebody.

“Look out there ! There’s a rung missing in the ladder.”

Noises of feet scraping against the ladder. An oath.

“Get the lantern!”

“Where is it?”

“Hanging behind the door.”

The men groped about for their belongings.

“My kepi!”

“Dashed if I can find the lantern! Come and help, can’t you?”

“Sure it can’t be two o’clock yet.”

” Come along now, hurry up,” cried a sergeant, opening the door. “Anybody else still asleep?”

No one replied. Outside, it was very cold, and the night was dark. Not a star was to be seen. Fires had been lit in the middle of the village, and coffee was on the boil. The church, a diminutive chapel magnified by the light from below, had almost the air of a cathedral, its spire lost in the inky blackness of the sky. Fantastic shadows danced on the walls, and the windows were momentarily lit up by red or green lights. A crowd of poor people fleeing from the enemy were sleeping in the nave, together with some soldiers who in vain had sought shelter elsewhere. Through the front entrance, which was wide open, the interior of the church looked mysterious, filled as it was with fugitive lights and shadows, like those cast by a building on fire. Under the vivid reflections of the stained-glass windows on the flags I caught a glimpse of prostrate human figures. In the square, soldiers coming and going between their fires threw enormous shadows on the ground and on the walls of the houses.

Why this alarm? Had the enemy succeeded in crossing the frontier near Stenay? We set off behind the infantry, whose tramp, tramp sounded like the movement of a flock of sheep on the road. The night was alive with moving but unseen forms. The breathing of hundreds of men on the march was felt rather than heard ; every now and then, as if from far off, came a half-lost word. All this invisible life in movement seemed to give off currents which traversed the night air like electricity.

In the distance we heard the sound of the guns towards which we were marching.

Soon the first streaks of dawn lit up the wooded hills, which reared their severe yet splendid crests between us and the Meuse. We passed through Tailly — a village at the bottom of a ravine, consisting of a few cottages, a church, and a cemetery.

When we arrived at Beauclair, in the valley of the Meuse, the engagement appeared to have finished.

In front of the church the infantry who had just been in action were resting amid their piled arms. The majority were pale — but some were very red. They had thrown themselves down on the bare ground in the sun, and not one of them moved a muscle. The stiffened features of the sleepers were eloquent of tragic weariness as they lay there with open coats and shirts, showing glimpses of naked chests. All were indescribably dirty, their legs plastered with mud up to the knees.

The battery halted outside the last houses of the village, and we at once set about making coffee. A hulking Tommy came up to ask for an onion. We questioned him :

“So they’ve not succeeded in crossing the Meuse yet ? ”

“Oh, yes, they have! . . . One brigade got over all right . . . but the artillery had mown down the bridges behind them, and so we had a go at them with fixed bayonets. . . . Lord! you don’t know what that’s like, you chaps! . . . A charge! . . . It’s awful! . . . Never known anything like it 1 If there is a Hell, I expect there’s bayonet fighting always going on there! . . . No! I mean it! Off  you go, shouting. . . . Then one or two fall, and after them lots of others. . . . And the more that fall the louder you’ve got to shout so that the others will come along. And then when at last you get to close quarters with ’em, why, you’re just raving mad, and you thrust and thrust. . . . But the first time you feel your bayonet sink into a chap’s stomach, you feel a bit queer. . . . It’s all soft, you’ve only got to shove a bit! . . . But it’s harder to withdraw clean! I was so damned gentle that I upset my fellow — a great big fat chap with a red beard. I couldn’t pull my bayonet out . . . had to put my foot on his chest, and felt him squirm under my tread. Here, have a look at this ! . . .”

He drew out his bayonet, which was red up to the cross-bar. As he went away he stooped down and plucked a handful of grass to clean it.

The hours passed. The enemy appeared unwilling to make another attempt to force the passage of the Meuse.

We heard that d’Amade had made a fiank attack on the opposing German army, and had taken Marville.

D’Amade ! Well done, d’Amade ! But . . . was it true ?

At Halles, a mile and a half from Beauclair, we encamped at the foot of some high hills. The guns, which for some time past had been
silent, again began to thunder. The enemy was bombarding the heights above us.

As billets for the night we had been given a spacious barn. But when at dusk we went there to get some sleep we found our straw covered with foot-soldiers, rifles, and packs.

The artillerymen began swearing:

“Hallo, what the hell’s all this ? No more room left?”

There was a scrimmage to let us find places.

The barn had a loft above it to which a ladder gave access, and the floor of which was worm-eaten. We stuffed up the holes with hay.

“There we are! As usual, the artillery- above, and the infantry below. That’s all right. … But mind you don’t take the ladder away!”

“Take care of your feet. . . . 0-o-oh ! ”

” Why couldn’t you say you were in the straw?”

” Now then, up you go!”

Five or six artillerymen were on the ladder at the same time. It bent beneath their weight. Below, a foot-soldier stood motionless, holding a candle in his hand.

“Look out ! Don’t want your spurs in my face, you know!”

“Growl away, old chap! Let’s get up.”

“The floor’s giving way ! . . . They’ll fall through.”

“Go on, climb up! It’s less dangerous than the shells!”

“Damn it all, move up a bit, you fellows; otherwise there won’t be room for all of us!”

“Don’t go there ! There’s a hole. . . . You’ll fall on the Tommies down below!”

Downstairs the infantry were grumbling :

“Can’t you keep quiet, up there, eh ? We want to sleep ! And the straw’s all falling in our mouths!”

“If only it would stop yours!”

“Look out, you’re on my stomach ! ”

“Sorry. Can’t see an inch in here. . . . Can’t you raise the lantern over there?”

Again came the soimd of a shell bursting in the distance. I hesitated whether to take off my spurs and leggings, although I knew quite well that I should sleep better without them. But, if there was an alarm, should I be able to find them in the straw ? Finally, I decided to keep them on, nor did I unstrap my revolver holster, which was chafing my side. I tightened my chin-strap so as not to lose my kepi.

Paul Lintier

Dun-sur-Meuse, France

It had poured all night, and rain was still falling when we rose. The thought of all the misery such weather must inevitably cause spoiled the satisfaction we experienced at feeling fit and fresh after ten hours’ delicious sleep in a well-closed barn. Our horse-cloths thrown over our heads like hoods and flapping against our calves, we silently marched in scattered order along the churned-up road, our feet squelching in the mud, and finally regained the park under the lashing rain.

The horses, motionless, glistening with water but resigned, endeavoured unceasingly to turn their tails to the rain. The stable-pickets had succeeded in lighting fires but they had had to dig new hearths, for those of the day before were swamped and black pieces of charred wood were floating in them.

The men’s cloaks were streaming and hung heavily in stiff folds from their shoulders. Some of them had turned up their capes in order to protect their heads. The gimners stood round about, holding their red hands to the fire.

“Beastly rain! Two days more like this and we shall all get dysentery!”

“I’d rather die of that than be killed by a shell,” said Hutin.

“No use trying to make coffee,” growled Pelletier. ” The fire doesn’t give out any heat…. It would take hours.”

“It’s the wood that won’t burn. It only smokes.”

“Blow on it, Milion!”

We turned our boot soles to the heat in order to dry them. The rain hissed and spat in the fire.

“All the same,” said the trumpeter, “if we hadn’t been betrayed things wouldn’t have gone like this!”

I grew annoyed.

“Betrayed ! I was waiting for some one to come out with that!”

“Well, I mean it; betrayed! I heard about it yesterday. … It was a General who delivered up the army plans. I know what I’m talking about!”

“Pooh! Camp gossip!”

“I heard the same thing,” affirmed another.

” Simply camp gossip ! From the moment we got scratched that was bound to come sooner or later. If you’re beaten it’s because you’ve been betrayed ! The French can’t be the weaker ! Lord, no ! It’s impossible, of course ! But you know there are five German army corps in front of us. That makes two to one. . . . No . . . well, all the same. Even with two to one we can’t be beaten, can we ? And, if we are, we at once begin to whine about betrayal ! Wasn’t it you who were always saying that Langle de Gary’s army ought to come up and help us ? Eh ? Well, it’s all simply because you don’t feel strong enough to tackle the Boches by yourselves.”

“All the same, traitors exist right enough,” said the trumpeter with a sage nod of the head. “There always have been traitors, and there always will be, to sell France.”

“Idiot!” said Hutin peremptorily.

Almost all my comrades thought as I did. A few properly equipped reinforcements would have enabled us to get the upper hand. Even alone, here behind the Meuse, we could have managed to stop the enemy.

Besides, during the days of defeat we had just been passing through, what a moving picture of our country had been revealed to us! An army immediately victorious cannot plumb the depths of patriotism. One must have fought, have suffered, and have feared — even if only for a moment — to lose her, in order to understand what one’s country really means. She is the whole joy of existence, the embodiment of all our pleasures visible and invisible, and the focus of all our hopes. She alone makes life worth living. All this united and personified in a single suffering being, begotten by the will of millions of individuals — that is France !

In defending her one defends oneself, seeing that she is the sole reason for being, for living. One would prefer to fall dead on the
spot rather than see France lost, for that would be worse than death. Every soldier feels this truth, either vaguely, or distinctly and clearly, according to his powers of perception and affection.

And yet, in the camp, these things are never talked of. The reason is that words which, in peace-time, too often veiled by their gross grandiloquence these deeper and finer feelings, would be insupportable now. This passion, for it is a passion, lies deep down in the heart with other sacred and inmost emotions, to give outward expression to which would be almost to profane them.

“Come on, now! Harness! Hook in! We’re off.”

The rain had soured the men’s tempers.

“Now then ! Be careful with your horse, can’t you ? You might have killed us!”

” Untie your horses so that we can get the picket-lines, will you ? . . . All right, damn you, I’ll do it myself.”

“There’s a silly fool ! Fine place to tether a colt to — the wheel of an ammunition wagon. He’s ripping up the oat-bag. Pull him off,
can’t you ? ”

Cramone, threatening his team with his whip, repeated for the twentieth time:

“I’ll teach you how to behave, you brutes!”

“There’s another dish lost,” shouted Millon. ” Who’s the idiot who didn’t pick it up yesterday ? ”

“Can’t you pull your infernal mules back a bit ? . . . We can’t limber up. . . . Never seen such a fool ! . . .”

The men pushed and tugged at their horses, which, face to the wind, continued pulling this way and that in a vain attempt to prevent the rain stinging their ears. Brejard lost his temper.

“Lord, what a set ! Can’t you keep your horses straight? . . . Look at that off-leader! . . . Can’t you see he’s got entangled ? . . .”

“Thought we were going to have a rest to-day!”

“I suppose the Germans are resting, aren’t they?”

The start was difficult. During the night the wheels of the vehicles had sunk deeper and deeper into the softening soil, and the horses’ hoofs kept slipping on the slope.

Once on the road the battery broke into a trot, the mud splashing in sprays from under the feet of the horses. Some of the gunners,
attacked by colic, stopped in the ditches, and then, still doing up their breeches, ran along by the side of the column in order to overtake their vehicles.

We were going to extend a strong artillery position on the heights of the Meuse valley. From the hills near Stenay the sound of the guns reached us in gusts, and, some distance off, above the woods, we could see the shrapnel shells bursting. The rain had stopped, and the sky, dark a moment previously, suddenly cleared and assumed a uniformly light grey tint.

In a meadow by the roadside some peasants, fleeing before the tide of invasion, had set up their nightly camp. A large green awning sheltered their cart and formed a tent at the same time. Two shafts projected from the front end, pointing skywards. An old man and two women — both pregnant — with half a dozen children clinging to their skirts, watched us go by.

The road rose stifily upwards, and the column slackened its pace to a walk. I heard one of the women say to the old man, as she gave him a nudge with her elbow :

“Go on, father!”

The old man hesitated, but she insisted:

“You must!”

He seemed to make up his mind, and approached us, shifting from one leg to another. Then, with a red face, he muttered:

“No! Can’t ask for that at my time of life!”

He was about to go, but we stopped him.

“Ask for what, old fellow?”

“For a bit of bread, if you’ve got any over. It’s for the children!”

“Yes, of course we have! We never eat it all!”

As a matter of fact we seldom get enough bread. The loaves have to be sorted out, and when the mouldy parts have been thrown away, the ration is usually more than halved. The old man walked by the side of the limber while the men searched in their bags.

“Here you are!”

Two loaves, almost fresh, were held out to him.

“With an onion and a good set of teeth they’re eatable!”

“Thanks. . . . Thank you so much. . . . But I’m afraid you’ll be short yourselves!”

“Oh, no! That’s all right, old chap! Why, we get a wagonful of those every day!”

He made off, a loaf under each arm. I saw him hunch his shoulders and dry his eyes with the sleeve of his coat.

A shower of shrapnel shells suddenly burst in the distance, over the dark woods.

“Swine!” growled Millon between his teeth. He had given up his bread.

He shook his fist towards the enemy.

Once in position to sweep the uplands on the right bank of the Meuse, we dried ourselves in the sun.

In the afternoon a few horsemen. Uhlans presumably, appeared on the edge of a distant wood. A broadside of shells quickly made them seek cover again.

Paul Lintier

Dun-sur-Meuse, France

Reveille came at dawn, and we woke to find a thick fog enveloping the battery. We were soaking with dew, and our benumbed and swollen limbs moved jerkily and with difficulty. The uncertain half-light awoke in us a feeling of anxiety and dread which, still heavy with sleep as we were, it was hard to throw off.

Wrapped in our cloaks and standing motionless round the guns, we had leisure to examine our situation in this clearing in the middle of the forest. On the right, according to our officers, it was not known whether there were any French troops. On this side the woods stretched uninterruptedly from the ridges we were occupying as far as Remoiville. On the left the movements of the 4th Army Corps were to be carried out. It is said that normally an army corps takes ten hours to effect a retreat along a single road. And this retreat had already been in progress for more than fifteen hours.

Our position in the clearing was difficult in itself, and might become positively perilous if the fog did not lift. Nothing could be distinguished at a distance of fifty yards from the guns, and the enemy might advance in the plain, threaten the retreating army, and take us by surprise.

On all sides of us, therefore, were the woods and their shadows, the Unknown and Unexpected. In front of us the enemy hidden in the mist; behind, the Meuse; danger everywhere.

The thought of the Meuse was especially disturbing. When it should become necessary for us to retire in our turn, the Germans, whom there would be nothing to check on the right, might reach the river before us. Possibly we should not find a single bridge left standing. We might have to sacrifice ourselves for the defence of the army.

The hours dragged by. The mists seemed to be collecting on the flank of the hills facing the Meuse, whence they were wafted by the west wind in filmy, trailing clouds which gradually curled over the crests of the hills, floated towards us, enveloping our batteries for an instant, and then slowly sank down on the plain.

I have written these notes on my knee, my back resting against the brass bottoms of the shells in the ammunition wagon, which was opened out like a wardrobe. The men were standing about smoking, waiting for orders.

At last, about eight o’clock, the sun shone over the top of the hill and the fog, like a kind of impenetrable gauze, began to draw away in front of us. One by one the trees reappeared, only the tops of the loftiest remaining shrouded in the mist. Nothing stirred. The road, black yesterday with men and horses now appeared absolutely white between the meadows damp with dew and vividly green under the first rays of the morning sun.

Lying flat on our chests in the grass in front of our guns, on a sort of natural terrace between the stones descending the slope, we scanned the plain. After a time everything seemed to move, and one had to make an effort to dispel the illusion.

The men are saying that we may have to stay here two days. Surely that cannot be possible? Somebody asserted that he had heard the instructions given to the Major by a General :

“You’ll stay there,” said he,” as long as the position is tenable. I rely on your instinct as an artilleryman.”

Another man supported the first speaker.

“Yes, that’s right. He said, ‘ Solente, I rely on your instinct as an artilleryman.’ Why, I heard him myself.”

We also heard that last Saturday’s engagement would be known as the Battle of Ethe.

“No,” said another. ” It will be called the Battle of Virton.”

“Ethe, Virton ! . . . What the devil does it matter what it’s called. Seeing that we’ve had to retreat ! . . .”

“Oh, yes, but all the same,” said the trumpeter, ” we ought to know. Suppose you get back to your people and they ask you what engagements you’ve been in. You’ll answer, ‘ I’ve been fighting in Belgium.’

“Yes,’ they’ll say,” but Belgium is a big place — bigger than our commune! Were you at Liege, or Brussels, or Copenhagen? ‘ You would look a silly fool ! ”

The other shrugged his shoulders.

With the help of a bayonet we opened a box of bully-beef for the four of us, and fell to. The only sound was that made by the hatchet of one of the men who was chopping down a small birch-tree which might conceivably interfere with the fire of his gun.

The silence was too intense, the immobility of the countryside too complete. The enemy was there. We neither heard him nor saw him, but that only rendered him the more sinister. The unwonted calm, when we had braced ourselves up for battle, was terrifying, and our nerves became overstrained.

I supposed that the retreat of the 4th Army Corps had by this time been accompHshed. Time passed, and the French army was still falling back, while the enemy advanced cautiously, threading his way through the woods.

Suddenly, about two o’clock, a machine-gun began to crackle quite close by in the forest. A horseman galloped through the clearing
and drew rein beside the Major. We at once limbered up.

Was our retreat cut off? The staccato rattle of the machine-gun was now accompanied by intermittent rifle-fire. We had to cross the clearing diagonally in order to reach a forest path. Quite calmly, and determined to save our guns, we got our rifles ready. But the column crossed the close-cropped field without our hearing a single bullet, and we gained the wood in safety. We had to hurry, for the road, even if still open, might be closed at any moment.

Leaning over the necks of the horses in order to avoid the low-hanging branches which threatened to drag them from their saddles, and gauging by eye the narrow passage between the trees, the drivers urged their teams forward with whip and spur.

The road was still open. . . . We arrived at Dun-sur-Meuse, where we had to cross the river. The Captain assembled the non-commissioned officers :

“The bridge is mined. Warn your drivers to take care of the sacks on each side of the bridge. They’re full of melinite.”

In order to let us through the sappers threw some planks across the pit they had opened up in the centre of the bridge.

The hindmost vehicles of the column had not advanced two hundred yards on the other side of the Meuse, when a loud explosion shook us on our seats. The bridge had just been blown up. Behind us a large white cloud of smoke curled up in thick volutes, masking half
the town.

As we stood waiting for orders in a field, our guns in double column, some one called out:

“There’s the postmaster!”

“At last ! ”

“Letters! letters! A man to each gun!”

For eight days we had been waiting for news, and each man drew a little aside in order to be alone as he read.

It seems certain that the battle of Saturday the 22nd will be known as the battle of Virton.

Paul Lintier

Remoiville, France

I was awakened by the sun, and stretched myself.

“A good night at last, eh, Hutin?”

Hutin, still asleep, made no answer. Deprez called out :

“Now then, oats!”

Nobody was in a hurry. Two men, a confused mass of dark blue cloth, quietly went on snoring amid the straw strewn under the chase of the gun. Suddenly I thought I heard a familiar sound, and instinctively turned to see whence it came.

“Down!” cried some one.

The men threw themselves down where they stood. In mid-air, above the camp, a shell burst. In the still atmosphere the compact cloud of smoke floated motionless among the thin grey mists.

“It’s that aeroplane we saw yesterday we’ve got to thank for that,” said Hutin, who had been fully awakened by the explosion.

“Yes, but it was too high.”

“That’s only a trial round to find the range. We shall get it hot in a few minutes, you’ll see!”

“Now then, bridle! Hook in! Quick!”

The camp at once became full of movement, the gunners hurrying to their horses and limbers. In the twinkling of an eye the picketlines were wound round the hooks behind the limbers, and the teams were ready to start. Again came the whistling of an approaching projectile. The men merely rounded their backs without interrupting their work. High-explosive shells now began to fall on Marville,
and others, hurtling over our heads, swooped down on the neighbouring hills which the enemy doubtless believed manned by French
artillery. The drivers, leaning over their horses’ necks, whipped up the teams, and the column made off at a trot to take up position
on the hills to the west of the town, which dominated the Othain valley and the uplands on the other side of the river, whence the
enemy was approaching. A veritable hail of lead, steel, and fire was raining upon Marville.

One of the first shells struck the steeple. The town was not visible from our position, but large black columns of smoke were rising
perpendicularly into the sky, and there was no doubt that the place was in flames. Amid the roar of the cannonade, which had now become an incessant thunder which rose, fell, echoed, and rolled without intermission, it was difficult to distinguish between shots
coming from the enemy’s guns and those fired from ours. After a time, however, we were able to recognize the short sharp barks
of the .75’s in action.

“Attention! Gun-layers, forward!”

The men hurried up to the Captain.

“That tree like a brush … in front. . . .”

“We see it, sir ! ”

” That’s your aiming-point. Plate 0, dial 150.”

The men ran to the guns and layed them, the breeches coming to rest as they closed on the shells. The gun-layers raised their hands.

“Ready 1”

“First round,” ordered the gun-commander.

The detachment stood by outside the wheels of the gun, the firing number bending down to seize the lanyard.

“Fire!”

The gun reared like a frightened horse. I was shaken from head to foot, my skull throbbing and my ears tingling as though with the jangle of enormous bells which had been rung close to them. A long tongue of fire had darted out of the muzzle, and the wind caused by the round raised a cloud of dust round us. The ground quaked. I noticed an unpleasant taste in my mouth — musty at first, and acrid after a few seconds. That was the powder. I hardly knew whether I tasted it or whether I smelled it. We continued firing, rapidly, without stopping, the movements of the men co-ordinated, precise, and quick. There was no talking, gestures sufficing to control the manoeuvre. The only words audible were the range orders given by the Captain and repeated by the Nos. 1.

“Two thousand five hundred!”

“Fire !”

“Two thousand five hundred and twenty-five !”

“Fire!”

After the first round the gun was firmly settled, and the gun-layer and the firing number now installed themselves on their
seats behind the shield. On firing, the steel barrel of the .75 mm. gun recoils on the guides of the hydraulic buffer, and then quietly and gently returns to battery, ready for the next round. Behind the gun there was soon a heap of blackened cartridge-cases, still smoking.

“Cease firing!”

The gunners stretched themselves out on the grass, and some began to roll cigarettes.

Another aeroplane; the same black hawk silhouetted against the pale blue sky which at every moment was getting brighter.

The men swore and shook their fists. What tyranny! It was marking us down!

Suddenly the enemy’s heavy artillery opened fire on the hills we were occupying as well as on a neighbouring wood. It was time to
change position, since for us the most perilous moment is when the teams come up to join the guns. A battery is then extremely vulnerable.

Before the enemy could correct his range the Major gave an order and we moved off to take up a fresh position in a hollow on the plain. The wide fields around us were bristling with stubble, and on the left a few poplars, bordering a road, traced a green line on the bare countryside. In front of us and behind stretched empty trenches. Marville was still burning, the smoke blackening the whole of the eastern sky. The sun was now high in the heavens, and poured a dazzling light on the stubble-fields. We were suffering badly from hunger and thirst. The din of the battle seemed continually to grow louder.

At the foot of some distant hills, still blue in the mist on the south-eastern horizon, the Captain had perceived a column of artillery or a convoy and large masses of men on the march. Were they French troops, or was it the enemy? He was not sure. The mist and the distance made it impossible to recognize the uniforms.

” We can’t fire if those are French troops,” said he.

Standing on an ammunition wagon he scanned the threatening horizon through his field-glasses.

“If it’s the enemy, they are outflanking us . . . outflanking us ! They’ll be in the woods in a moment. . . . We shan’t be able
to see them. … Go and ask the Major.”

The Major was no better informed than the Captain, the orders he had received saying nothing about these hills. He also was using
his field-glasses, but could not distinguish the uniforms of the moving masses. In his turn he muttered :

“If it’s the enemy they’re surrounding us!”

A mounted scout was hastily dispatched. We remained in suspense, a prey to nervous excitement.

A single foot-soldier had stopped near the fourth gun. He had neither pack nor rifle. We questioned him :

“Wounded?”

“No.”

“Where have you come from?”

The Captain signalled for the man to be taken to him. The soldier, who had thrown away his arms, did not hurry to obey.

“What are those troops down there?” asked the Captain. “French?”

“I don’t know!”

“Well, where do you come from?”

The soldier waved his arm with a vague, comprehensive gesture which embraced half the horizon.

“From over there!”

The Captain shrugged his shoulders.

“Yes, but where are the Germans ? Do you know whether they have turned Marville on the south?”

” No, sir. . . . You see, I was in a trench. . . . And the shells began to come along — great big black ones. . . . First they burst
behind us, a hundred yards or more. . . . Then, of course, we didn’t mind ’em. But soon some of them fell right on us . . . and
then we ran ! ”

“But your officers?”

The man made a sign of ignorance. Nothing more could be got out of him. Just at that moment a shell came hissing through the air,
and he at once made off at full speed, crouching as he ran. A few dislocated words came back to us over his shoulder:

” h I Bon Dieu de bon Dieu!”

The shell burst on the other side of the road, and the moment after three others exploded nearer still. The Captain had not ceased to follow through his glasses the doubtful troops which, by now, had nearly reached the woods. We waited anxiously, standing in a circle round him.

” I believe they’re French,” said he. ” Here, Lintier, have a look! You’ve got good eyes.”

Through the glasses I was able to distinguish the red of the breeches.

” Yes, they’re French, sir. But where are they going to?”

The Captain made no reply, and I understood that once again our army was in retreat.

A shower of shells poured down on the field behind us.

The enemy’s fire, too much to the left and too high at first, was getting nearer, and was now corrected as far as training went. Our
lives depended on the whim of a Prussian Captain and a slight correction for elevation.

Just at that moment some sections of infantry suddenly appeared on the edge of the plateau and hurriedly fell back. A company of the I Gist had come to man the trenches behind our guns.

The air began to vibrate again, and more shells fell, this time right on the top of us. A splinter brushed by my head and clanged on
the armour of the ammunition wagon. Another shell plumped down in the trench full of infantry. One, two, three seconds passed; then came a groan and a cry. A man got up and fled, then another, and, finally, the whole company. Their heads held low, and with bent knees, they scurried off. Behind them a wounded man hastily unstrapped his pack, threw both it and his gun to one side, and limped rapidly away.

A road orderly arrived with an envelope for the Major. Orders to retire. We limbered up, and moved off at a walking pace. Under the bright sun the stubble-field, with its entrails of black earth laid bare by the gashes torn by the high-explosive shells, seemed to
possess something of the horror of a corpse mutilated with gaping wounds. Near the points of burst clods of earth had been blown
to a distance, and, round the edge of the hole, the soil was raised in a circular embankment. We were still threatened by sudden death.
Some one asked:

“Why don’t we go quicker ? . . . We shall get done in!”

But I fancy that all of us were conscious that fatalism — which is, I believe, the beginning of courage — had got a grip on us. The
enemy was firing without seeing us, and his shells seemed like the blows of Fate descending from heaven. Why here rather than there?
We did not know, and the enemy assuredly did not know either. In that case, what was the good of hurrying? Death might as easily
overtake us a little farther on. Useless to hurry, then ; absolutely useless. … In front, our officers, heel by heel, rode on, talking.

In the trench in which the shell had just burst a single soldier remained behind. He was stretched out face downwards on a heap of straw which he had gathered under him for greater comfort. Blood was oozing from a wound in his back, making large black stains on the cloth, and the straw underneath him was dyed crimson. Another splinter had hit him in the back of the neck; his kepi had fallen
off and his face was buried in the straw. All eyes were turned on him as we passed, but not a word was said. What can one say about a
burst shell or a dead man?

Another defeat! Just as in 1870! . . . Just as in 1870! We were all obsessed by the same paralysing thought.

“They are devilish strong! Look at that!” said Deprez, pointing towards the plateau where, as for as the eye could reach, swarms of French infantry could be seen retreating, Latour, six hours’ fighting; to-day, hardly more. Beaten again! Oh, God!

We felt a blind rage against those who had fallen back. We did not retreat last Saturday when we were in action by the willow-tree.

In the distance, towards Marville, columns of artillery were trailing over the bare fields. A blue and red squadron was raising clouds of dust. Waves of infantry, diminishing but still noticeable, dust-covered cavalry, and black lines of artillery could be seen as far as the horizon, moving under the scorching sun. The guns had ceased to roar and there was absolute silence. The earth, parched and hot, exhaled a vapour which seemed to follow the movements of the men. It was almost as if the entire plateau had begun to march.

At Remoiville we came upon a beautiful chateau of the Early Renaissance period, with severe Hnes of long terraces and lofty turrets
over which floated a white flag with a red cross. In the village not a soul was to be seen. Doors and windows were all closed.
A few hens were scratching about on a manure heap, and a pig, which two gunners were killing in a little sty black with refuse, raised
piercing and discordant squeals. And yet, on the threshold of one of the last houses, a wretched ruin in the shadowy interior of
which we caught a glimpse of a varnished wardrobe, two old women, bent with age, watched us as we passed with eyes which were hardly perceptible under their furrowed eyelids. Only their fingers moved. Their silent and fixed stare, as keen as a steel blade, followed us like a reproach. Oh, we know it well, the bitter remorse of a retreat ! A deep sense of shame oppressed us as we filed through these villages which we were powerless to protect, which we were abandoning to the fury of the enemy. Things in them assumed an almost human expression; the fronts of the forsaken dwellings wore an air of dejected suffering. Fancy, no doubt ! Just imagination — but poignant and vivid imagination, nevertheless, for to-morrow all these villages might be burning and we, from our camp on the hills, should see the crops and cottages flaming when the sun went down.

It seems that the Allies have beaten the Germans in the north and in Alsace. At any rate the Communal and Army Bulletins, which are given us sometimes, say so. Then how is it that we are saddled with this terrible reproach by things and people whom we cannot defend against an enemy too superior in numbers ?

We waited some time at Remoiville, and then set off across the river, which boasted a single bridge. The crossing was carried out in good order. Then, by the only road, across the valleyed country where dark green forests alternated with fresh pasture-land, the retreat of the 4th Army Corps began.

The western horizon was limited by a long range of blue hills of magnificent outlines. It was doubtless upon these that the French
intended to stop and entrench themselves.

On the right of the road the interminable procession of artillery and convoys continued: guns of all calibres, ammunition wagons, forage wagons, carts, supply and store vehicles, division and corps ambulances, and peasants’ carts full of bleeding wounded, their heads sometimes enveloped in lint turbans red with gore.

Keeping to the left the infantry marched abreast in good order down the road, which was already badly cut up. In front of us rolled a 120 mm. battery. One of the corporals had half a sheep hanging from his saddle.

The l0th Battery had lost all its guns, for when, about one o’clock, the infantry gave up all resistance, the gunners could not limber up, the enemy’s fire having almost completely destroyed the teams. Captain Jamain had been hit in the thigh by a shell splinter. We
caught sight of him as he lay stretched on a hay-cart among the wounded foot-soldiers.

The forest, very dense and very dark in spite of the blazing sun, deadened the tramp of the infantry on the march and the rumble of the wheels.

In the ditches some foundered horses were standing with drooping heads and half-closed eyes glassy with fatigue. Occasionally a wheel fouled them, but they did not budge an inch. They would only He down to die.

As it turned out, however, the 4th Army Corps was not going to await the enemy on the hills which, in a series of ridges, commanded the plain and the forest. Some one told me that the whole of Ruffey’s Army was falling back behind the Meuse. The general retreat continued along the highway, but our Group turned aside down a by-road which led first to a village swarming with troops, and then zigzagged up the wooded hill-side.

We began the ascent. The sky had suddenly clouded over and the air became sultry. A few drops of rain fell. The main road below, over which the tide of retreating troops ebbed ceaselessly on between the poplars bordering it on either side, looked like a canal filled with black water and moved by a slow current.

The column halted, and we carefully wedged the wheels. The men were tired, and hardly any words were spoken. The silence was only broken by the jingling of the curb-chains as the horses stretched their necks, and by the patter of the rain on the leaves.

We advanced another hundred yards or so, and at the next turn of the road stopped again. A peasant’s cart, filled with bedding,
upon which were sitting a woman — obviously pregnant — and an old lady, both sheltering under a large umbrella, tried to pass the
column. But several of the ammunition wagons, of which the wheels had been badly secured, had slid backwards and barred the way. A girl was driving the heavy cart, which was being laboriously dragged up the hill by a mare in foal between the shafts, and a colt in front, the latter pulling in all directions. Both the girl and the animals stuck pluckily to their job.

“Now then, come up!”

The mare threw herself into the collar, and, with our aid, they eventually reached the head of the column, after which the way was clear. The girl stopped the cart for a moment and caressed the nose of the heavy animal, from whose haunches steam arose in clouds.

We exchanged a few words.

“Where are you going to?”

” We don’t know. At any rate we must cross the Meuse. . . . We’re late, too. All those who had to go went this morning, when we first heard the guns. But we didn’t; we thought we would wait a little longer and see what happened. But after all we had to go too. Best to go, isn’t it ? ”

“Yes,” we told them, “you’d better go.”

“And the Germans are perfect savages, aren’t they ? ”

“Yes.”

“They’ll burn our houses … we shan’t find anything when we come back — nothing but ashes. Oh, it’s awful! . . . Can’t you kill them all?”

“If only we could! . . .”

“Now then, come up, old girl!”

The cart moved on.

“Good luck!” cried the girl over her shoulder.

“Thanks— good luck!”

Near the top of the hill was a large clearing in the woods, from which the forest appeared like a magnificent mantle thrown over the shoulders of the neighbouring crests, rounding their edges and softening their outlines. From this point we could see the whole of the Woevre plain we had just crossed as well as Remoiville and the plateau of Marville, where, standing sharply out against the bare ields, was the dark line of poplars near which we had been in action in the morning.

Here, in a field where the oats were only half cut, we prepared to wait for the enemy. Our mission was to cover the retreat of the
4th Army Corps, which still continued below on the main road over which an interminable procession of Paris motor-omnibuses was now
passing. The sky had become overcast, and the heavy clouds banking up behind us, to the west, threatened to shorten the daylight.

Advancing round the edge of the wood, in order not to reveal our presence, the battery finally came to a halt on the outskirts of the
sloping forest, behind some clumps of trees which afforded good cover. We unharnessed and placed the horses and limbers against the
background of foliage of which, from a long distance, they would seem to form part. We hoped to have a quiet evening, especially as
the next day would probably be a very strenuous one. The two batteries which at present formed the Group, that is to say only seven guns, would have to hold up the enemy a sufficient time to ensure the retreat of the Army Corps. But we hardly gave any heed to the morrow, being too tired to think or reason.

We had still to take the horses to the pond in the village at the foot of the hill, and started off down a steep and narrow path through the wood. The only street of the hamlet was still crowded with troops. Through the open window of the mayor’s house I saw
General Boelle. He looked grave but not worried, and I searched in vain for a sign of uneasiness in his expression.

Infantrymen had piled arms on both sides of the road in front of the houses. A flag in its case was lying across two piles. At the door of the vicarage at least two hundred men were crowded together holding out their water-bottles. The cure, it appeared, was giving them all his wine. Some Chasseurs, their reins slung over their arms, stood waiting for orders, smoking, their backs to the wall of the church. I overheard some of their talk.

“So Mortier’s dead, is he ? ”

“Yes. Got a bullet in the stomach.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing much. … He said, ‘They’ve got me!’ and he lay down clutching his stomach with both hands. He rolled from side to side and said : ‘Ah-a-a-ah! They’ve got me!’ His horse, Balthazar, was snifhng at him. He hadn’t let go of the reins . . . still held ’em just like I’m holding these, over his arm. I heard him say, ‘ Poor old boy ! ‘ He was all doubled up, and groaned and panted ‘ ouf- ouf ! ‘ and then all of a sudden he stretched himself right out at full length. . . . One more Chasseur less! His face wasn’t a pretty sight, and I shut his eyes for him. Then I broke off a branch from a tree and covered his face with it, as I should like some one to do
to me if I went under. . . . Must cover up the dead somehow. . . . After that I came back with Balthazar.”

When we had climbed back up the hill and regained our clearing many of the foot-soldiers had already left, while others were strapping
on their packs and unpiling arms. We were informed that only one battalion was to stay there and support us. I wondered what awful attack the next day might hold in store.

A Captain of infantry accosted Astruc, who was astride Lieutenant Heiy d’Oisseys big horse.

“Hallo there, gunner ! ”

“Sir?”

“Well i’m shot if it isn’t Tortue!”

“Tortue, sir? Who’s Tortue?”

“Why, the horse I lost. That’s him! There can’t be any mistake. Dismount now, quick, and hand him over!”

Astruc protested:

“But, sir, this horse belongs to our Lieutenant! I must take him back to him. What would he say to me!”

“Well, I tell you to dismount. I suppose I know my own saddle, don’t I ? And Tortue . . . why, she knows me. . . . There! You see there’s no doubt about it. It’s Tortue all right, my mare which I lost at Ethe.”

” But, sir, this is a horse, not a mare.”

The officer examined the animal more closely.

“Oh! ah ! Why yes, it’s true! Now that’s odd . . . most extraordinary! I could have sworn it was Tortue. …”

Night fell, the mist enveloping the trees round the clearing. Under the black clouds passed yet another aeroplane, blacker even than they. Could the pilot see us at that hour? If so we might expect a shower of shells at daybreak. The machine pitched and tossed in the sky above the clearing, for the wind had risen and was blowing in gusts from the west.

We had strewn some cut oats round the guns, as the night was chilly, and it looked like rain. The wind, freshening into a gale, wrapped our cloaks tightly round us and almost seemed to move the men themselves. No light of any kind was to be seen on the plain over which our guns were pointing, and which soon became shrouded in the impenetrable darkness ahead. In one corner the clearing cut into the forest, and here, where the thick brushwood rose like a black wall on either side, we were allowed to light a fire. The wind blew in gusts on the flames, which it first nearly extinguished and then rekindled, making the shadows of the men flicker fantastically on the ground.

I was tired out — artillery fire creates an irresistible desire to sleep — and I Was also rather hungry. Not feeHng possessed of sufficient courage to wait for the meat to be cooked and the coffee brewed, I devoured my ration of beef raw and stretched myself out in the oats behind the ammunition wagon, where I was sheltered from the wind.

 

Paul Lintier

Marville, France

Marville, France

It was still night when I was awakened and saw a dark shadow standing over me.

“Up you get!”

“What time is it?”

“Don’t know,” answered the sentry who had roused me. The villages were still burning. Feeling our way, and almost noiselessly, we harnessed our teams, and the limbers came up. A steep decline . . . the stones rolled. In the darkness the horses might stumble at any moment. The brakes acted badly, and we hung on to the vehicles, letting ourselves be dragged along in order to relieve the wheelers, which were almost being run over by the heavy ammunition wagon.

At early dawn we passed through a slumbering village. Stretched on the ground under the lee of the high wall surrounding the church five Chasseurs were sleeping. Twisted round one arm they held the reins of their horses, which, standing motionless beside them, were also asleep. A pale, cold light was breaking through the fog, which had collected at the bottom of the valley. It was very cold as we marched along in silence, the men snoring on the limber-boxes. We were going westwards — retiring, that is to say. Why? Were we not in a good position to wait for the enemy? Suddenly a silver sun shone through the mist, surrounded by a halo of light.

After a long halt in a lucerne-field manured with stable refuse, the smell of which remained in our nostrils, we took up position on a hill near Flassigny. But hardly had we done so when fresh orders arrived, and we started off again, always towards the west. In the space between two hills we caught sight of a distant town — doubtless Montmedy.

About midday we halted in a valley near the river.

“Dismount ! Unharness the off-horses. Stand easy!”

The sun was burning hot, and not a breath stirred in the heavy air. Our bottles only contained a little of the Othain water, brackish and tepid, but at any rate it served to wash in. The men went to sleep in the ditches, the horses standing motionless, exhausted by the heat.

The evening was already advanced when our Group received instructions to push on to Marville, presumably to camp there.

I recognized the place, for we had passed through Marville on our way to Torgny. At that time it was a pretty little town with flowerygardens and river-side villas surrounded by dahlias. Now, however, the place was deserted. Large carts belonging to the Meuse
peasantry were waiting, ready to start, piled high with bedding, boxes, and baskets. In one of them I caught sight of a canary-cage side by side with a perambulator and a cradle. Women, surrounded by children, were sitting on the heterogeneous heap, crying bitterly, while the little ones hid their heads in their skirts. Some dogs, impatient to be off, were nosing uneasily round the wheels of the carts. We asked these poor people where they were going.

“We don’t know ! They say we’ve got to go. . . . And so we’re going . . . and with babies like these!”

And they questioned us in their turn:

“Which way do you think we’d better go? We don’t know!”

Nor did we. Nevertheless, we pointed out a direction.

“Go that way! Over there!”

“Over there” was towards the west. . . . Oh, what misery ! . . .

We bivouacked on the outskirts of the town. Near-by flowed a river, on the opposite side of which two dead horses were lying in a stubble-field.

The Captain of the 10th Battery, which we had believed lost, arrived on horseback at the camp. He told the Major that in the Gueville woods he had managed to save his four guns, but had had to leave the ammunition wagons behind. His battery had taken up position somewhere on the hills surrounding Marville on the south-east, and he had come to get orders.

The rent made by a shell-splinter two days previously in the seat of my breeches was causing me great discomfort. Divided between the wish to patch it up and the fear lest the order might come to break up the camp before I had finished, I let the quiet hours of the evening pass without doing this very necessary work.

Paul Lintier

Torgny, Belgium

Torgny, Belgium

This morning they let us sleep until past eight o’clock. After getting up we at once led our horses down to the big stone trough in the middle of the village. The church bells were ringing. So there were still Sundays! Somehow that seemed strange! I was still sleepy and my numbed limbs ached abominably, so that it was torture to get into the saddle. How I longed for a day’s rest!

As I was returning to the camp, Deprez at my side, we met Mademoiselle Aline, in a light pink dress of flowery pattern, and very daintily shod. She was doubtless going to Mass. She recognized us and waved her hand, smiling. At the camp we found them waiting for us.

“Hurry up now!”

“Bridle! . . . Hook in!”

“What? Are we going into action again?”

“Seems like it. . . . I don’t know,” answered Brejard. “Now then!”

The two batteries now forming the Group, our own and the 12th (the 10th had been taken by the enemy in the Gueville woods), started off along the Virton road. It seemed that we were never to get a moment’s respite.

But almost immediately we halted in double column on the grass by the side of the road. On the hill-side were strong forces of French artillery in position, the motionless batteries showing up like black squares on the green slope.

The roll was called. One or two were missing from my battery. Baton, the centre driver of the gun-team, had been wounded in the head, and had been left behind in the hospital at Torgny. Hubert, our gun-commander, had disappeared, and so had Homo, another of the drivers. The last time that I had seen Homo he was wandering across a field swept by the German guns, a wild look in his eyes.

Lucas, the Captain’s cyclist, was also missing, and this worried me especially. He is always so cheerful, open-hearted, and amusing, and is
one of my best friends.

There was no news at all of our entire first line, conducted by Lieutenant Couturier. Standing in a circle round the Captain the detachments were reorganized. The battery had only three guns left, and it was necessary to send to the rear the one with the broken hydraulic buffer.

How tired I was! As soon as I stayed still I began to fall asleep.

Hutin opened a box of bully-beef for the two of us.

“Hungry, Lintier?”

“Not a bit. . . . And yet I’ve not eaten anything since the day before yesterday!”

“Same here. Do you think we shall have any more fighting today?”

“I suppose we shall. . . .”

Hutin thought a little.

“There’s only one thing I love,” said he, “and that is to be there.”

“Yes, it’s splendid.”

“It’s odd that we don’t hear the guns to-day.”

“They don’t seem to have taken advantage of their victory yesterday in order to advance.”

“Well,” said our gun-layer, ” in my opinion we’ve fallen into an ambuscade. They were waiting for us there, and they had got all the ridges nicely registered. That’s how they had us! But all that will change!”

“I hope so ! Oh, Lord, how tired I am! And you?”

” So am I ! ”

We each ate without much relish four mouthfuls of bully-beef and shut the box again. Besides, the column was already beginning to move. Striking across country we reached Lamorteau, a large village on the banks of the Chiers, where we encamped near the river and waited for orders.

The scene was soon brightened by smoke rising straight up in the still air of the morning, which was already hot. The men made their soup and the drivers went off to draw water for the horses, which were not unharnessed.

Suddenly, on the bridge spanning the Chiers, Lieutenant Couturier appeared at the head of his column, accompanied by Lucas. The latter ran up to me.

“There you are!”

“There you are!”

“You devil! You did give us a fright!”

We grasped each other’s hands, and that was all. But I felt immensely relieved.

Hubert was also with them. Conversation became lively round the camp-kettles, in which the soup was already steaming. Afterwards, no orders having arrived, we slept, and at nightfall returned to Torgny to camp there once more.

The Major ordered the horses to be unharnessed and, supposing therefore that no danger threatened, I stretched myself and gave a yawn of satisfaction. Then we bivouacked. What work! The guns are placed about twenty yards apart. Between the wheels of two guns are stretched the picket lines, and, when the horses have been tethered to them, and the harness arranged on the limber draught-poles, the park ought to form a regular square.

We took off our vests, for it was still hot. Deprez was distributing oats among the drivers who stood holding out the nosebags.

Somebody suddenly cried out:

“An aeroplane!”

“A German aeroplane!”

Right overhead, like a big black hawk with a forked tail, an aeroplane was circling round and round. There was an immediate rush for rifles. Lying on their backs in order to shoulder their guns, and half undressed, their open shirts showing hairy chests, the men opened a brisk fire on the German bird of prey, which was flying low. The startled horses neighed, reared, and pulled this way and that, many breaking loose and galloping off across the fields. The aeroplane seemed to be in difficulties.

“She’s hit!”

“She’s coming down!”

“No! She’s only going off!”

The men still continued firing, although the machine had been out of range for some minutes.

At the drinking-place in the only street of the village there was always the same crowd of men taking their horses to be watered, some mounted bareback, others led; the same shouting and swearing to get room at the trough, greetings from those who recognized each other, oaths from others leading their animals who were hustled by the men on horseback — in short, all the life and movement of an artillery camp. A Chasseur, shouting profanely, forced his way through the throng. He was assailed with cries.

“Here, you aren’t in a bigger hurry than any one else!”

“Yes, I am! Get back to camp quick! I’ve got orders!”

“What’s the matter now?”

” All you chaps have got to clear off! No time for amusement, this, you know; the Germans are coming up. There’ll be some more fun in a minute!”

He spurred forward, and we hurried back to our guns. Was it a surprise? We limbered up at full speed, and before we had even had time to button our shirts the first gun left the park.

“Forward! March. . . . Trot!”

We had thrown the nosebags, still half full of oats, on the ammunition wagons and gun-carriages, and once on the way it was necessary to lash them so that they should not be shaken off. Hastily throwing on their clothing, the men jumped on to the limbers as best they could, while the battery moved forward at a brisk pace on the uneven road.

We kept continually looking over our shoulders, towards the hills on the east dominated by Torgny, from which direction we expected to see the heads of the enemy’s column emerge at any minute. I momentarily awaited the crackling of a machine-gun or the scream of a shell.

The road in the distance, as it wound through the valley, was black with horses and ammunition wagons advancing at a trot and raising thick clouds of dust. Batteries were also to be seen rolling across country. What was the meaning of this sudden retreat?

The whole day long we had only heard the guns from far off, towards the north. We had now even ceased to hear them altogether. Had we been surprised, then, or nearly surprised? But one never knows what has really happened on such occasions!

We took up our position on the ridge between the Chiers and the Othain, where the whole country, its contours and colours continually changing in the bright sunshine, had seemed to smile at us upon our arrival. It seemed to me as though the memories awakened by the majesty and stillness of the scene were deeply rooted in the past. I felt as though I had aged ten years in one day — a strange and painful impression.

Our guns were pointing towards Torgny and the plateau above it. At any moment the order might come to bombard the unfortunate village. Possibly, even, a shell from my gun might blow to bits the very house which had given us shelter, and kill the woman whose hospitality had meant so much to us! That was an awful thought! Oh, this ghastly war!

But night fell, and as yet the Captain had seen no signs of movement on the plateau. Behind us the narrow valley of the Othain was slowly becoming shrouded in shadows. The limbers were stationed 200 yards from the battery. All fires were forbidden — even lanterns might not be lit, as our safety on the morrow might depend upon our remaining undiscovered. The night was clear, but a thin mist partially veiled the light of the stars, and there was no moon. Motionless, and clustered together in dark groups, the horses quietly munched their oats. A far-
reaching reddish glow lit up the eastern horizon — doubtless La Malmaison on fire — and as the darkness deepened other lights appeared
on the right and left of the main conflagration.

On every side the villages were burning. Against the fiery sky the haunches of the horses, their heads and twitching ears, and the heavy masses of the guns and limbers stood out like silhouettes.

Standing side by side with our arms folded, Hutin and I watched the flaming countryside.

“Oh, the brutes, the savages!”

“So that’s war, is it?”

And we both lapsed into silence, struck dumb by the same feeling of futile horror, and filled with the same rage. I saw a yellow gleam pass across the dark eyes of my friend — a reflection of the holocaust.

“And to think we can’t prevent it! . . . That we’re the weaker! Oh, Lord!”

“That’ll come in time.”

“Yes, that’ll come . . . and then they’ll pay for it!”

We threw ourselves down on the straw heaped up behind the guns. A searchlight from Verdun swept the country at regular intervals, and the inky sky was lit up by the visual signalling. Huddled together we gradually fell asleep, a single sentry, wrapped in his cloak, standing motionless on guard.

Paul Lintier

Latour, Belgium

Latour, Belgium

We slept in the barn which the kindly old woman had placed at our disposal, and in which the hay was deep and warm. At three o’clock in the morning one of the stable pickets came to call us through the window. We harnessed our horses as best we could in the darkness.

An extremely diffused light was beginning to spread over the countryside, and the mist, rising from the meadows, dimmed the clearness of the dawn. We marched on through the powdery atmosphere. The fog was so thick that it was impossible to see the carriage immediately ahead, and from our places on the limber-boxes the lead driver and his horses looked like a sort of moving shadow.

Eventually we reached the little town of Virton. All the inhabitants were at their doors, and offered us coffee, milk, tobacco, and cigars. The men jumped off the limbers and hurriedly drank the steaming drinks poured out for them by the women, while the drivers, bending down from their horses, held out their drinking-tins.

“Have you seen the Germans?” we asked.

“Only one or two came to buy some socks and some sugar. I hope they won’t all come here. Will they?”

“Aren’t we here to prevent them?”

The women’s open faces, framed in their dark brown hair, were perfectly calm. Fat little children, like cherubs sprung to life from some canvas of Rubens, ran by the side of the column as we moved on, and others, a little bigger, kept crying : “Hurrah for the French!”

Our batteries joined up behind a group of the 26th Artillery on the Ethe road — a fine straight highway, flanked by tall trees. In the fog the sheaves in the fields looked so much like infantry that for a moment one was deceived. A few ambulances were installed in one of the villages. A little farther on some mules, saddled with their cacolets, were waiting at the end of a sunken road.

We had hardly passed the last houses when suddenly rifle-fire broke out with a sound like that of dry wood burning. A machine-gun also began to crackle, staccato, like a cinema apparatus.

Fighting was going on quite close, both in front of us and also to the right, somewhere in the fog. I listened, at every moment expecting to hear the hum of a bullet.

“About turn!”

“Trot!”

What had happened? Where were the batteries which had preceded us? We turned off to the right. The firing ceased. The march in the fog, which kept getting thicker, became harassing after a while. At all events we were sure, now, that the enemy was not far off.

Finally, at about seven o’clock, we halted. Not a sound of the battle was to be heard. We unbridled our horses and gave them some oats. The men lay down by the side of the road and dozed.

Suddenly the fusillade broke out again, but this time on the left. I asked myself how our position could have altered so in relation to that of the enemy. A few minutes ago the fighting was on our right. Perhaps it was only a patrol which had gone astray. I gave up thinking about it. Doubtless the fog had confused my sense of direction.

This time the firing sounded more distant. A single detonation, like a signal, was heard. I thought at first that it was one of the drivers whipping up his team, but a minute later the crackling of rifles broke on our ears in gusts, as if carried by a high wind. And yet the air was quite still, and the fog floated, motionless, on all sides.

Suddenly the sun broke through and the mists disappeared as if by magic, like large gauze curtains rapidly lifted. In a few moments the whole stretch of countryside became visible. The cannonade began at once.

On the right were some meadows in which flocks were feeding, and, farther on, a line of wooded hills, in the lap of which nestled a tiny
village.

On the left and towards the north the horizon was hidden by a semicircle of hills through which a river wound its tortuous course, draining the stubble-fields on either side. A large, bowl-shaped willow-tree made a solitary green blotch on the background.

A battery was evidently already installed there, four dark points indicating the position of the four guns. As we stood waiting on the straight road, the perspective of which was accentuated by the trees flanking it on each side, the twelve batteries of our regiment, followed by their first lines of wagons, formed an interminable and motionless black line.

The Captain gave the order:

“Prepare for action!”

The gun-numbers who had been lying beneath the trees jumped to their feet and took off the breech-and muzzle-covers which protect the guns from dust when on the road. This done, they got the sighting-gear ready, and saw that the training and elevating levers were in good working order.

We were surprised in our work by an explosion quite near at hand. Above the stubble-fields a small white cloud was floating upwards. It expanded, and then disappeared. And suddenly, near the bowl-shaped willow-tree, six shrapnel shells burst, one after another.

I felt an odd sensation, as if my circulation was growing slower. But I was not afraid. For the matter of that, no immediate danger threatened us. Only I had an intuition that a big battle was about to begin, and that I should have to make a great effort.

The gunners anxiously riveted their eyes on a point of the horizon where shells were now falling almost incessantly. Of course none of them would have confessed to their anxiety, but there was a significant lull in the conversation. I do not know what we were waiting for — whether the fall of a shell or the arrival of orders.

For my part I excused myself for feeling apprehensive. The baptism of fire is always an ordeal, and the motionless waiting on the road had worked on my nerves. The enemy need only have lifted his fire in order to hit us as we stood there, defenceless, in column formation.

Besides, such emotions are only skin-deep. Even if anxiety could plainly be read in every man’s face we still kept smiling and inwardly resolved to do whatever might be necessary in order to make the coming battle a French victory.

The Colonel passed by, accompanied by Captain Manoury and a Staff of Lieutenants. He gave us a quiet but searching look, which seemed to gauge our mettle and encourage us at the same time. The small group of horse-men made off rapidly, ascending the slopes which were being bombarded by the enemy.

“Attention!”

We were going into action.

On the side of the horseshoe-shaped ring of hills sections of infantry were deploying and advancing by successive rushes. Of a sudden men rose up and ran across the fields, and again as suddenly, at an inaudible word of command, threw themselves down, disappearing from view like so many rabbits. They went on farther and farther, and at last we saw their outlines silhouetted against the sky-line as they crossed the ridge of the hill.

It was about ten o’clock, and very hot. From the unknown country on the other side of the hills came the awe-inspiring roar of battle. The rifle-fire crackled continuously and the noise of the machine-guns sounded like waves beating against the rocks. The thunder of the heavy guns drowned, so to speak, the general din, and blended it into a single roar, similar to that of the ocean in a storm, when the waves gather and break with dull thuds amid the shriek of the wind as it lashes the waters.

The battle-line seemed to lie from east to west, the Germans holding the north and the French the south.

“Forward!”

First we had to cross a meadow traversed by a stream almost hidden in the high grass. The gunners took the off-horses by the bridle and urged them forward, while the drivers whipped up their teams into a trot. The sun was shining under the wheels of the ammunition wagon as it suddenly proved too much for the horses and sank heavily up to the axle in the mud. It was eventually dislodged by some strong collar-work.

Where on earth were we going to? We seemed to be bound for the bowl-shaped willow-tree, near the heights from which the German machine-guns, for more than two hours, had been riddling every square inch of ground. Why were we being sent there? Were there not plenty of excellent positions on the hills? We should inevitably be massacred! But still the column advanced at a walking pace towards the sloping field in which shells were falling at every moment.

Why? Why? Death had reigned supreme there ever since the fog lifted. We were riding into the Valley. . . .

I felt a choking sensation grip my throat. And yet I was still capable of reasoning. I understood quite clearly that the hour was come for me to sacrifice my hfe. All of us would go up, yes! — but few would come back down the hill!

This combination of animality and thought which constitutes my life would shortly cease to be. My bleeding body would lie stretched out on the field; I seemed to see it. A curtain seemed to fall on the perspectives of the future which a moment ago still seemed full of sunshine. It was the end. It had not been long in coming, for I am only twenty-one.

Not for an instant did I argue with myself or hesitate. My destiny had to be sacrificed for the fulfilment of higher destinies — for the life of my country, of everything I love, of all I regretted at that moment. If I was to die, well and good 1 I was willing. I should almost have thought that it was harder ! . . .

We continued to advance at a walking pace, the drivers on foot at their horses’ heads. Presently we reached the willow-tree. A volley. . . . From far off came a sound at first resembling the whirr of wings or the rustle of a silken skirt, but which rapidly developed into a droning hum like that of hundreds of hornets in flight. The shell was coming straight at us, and the sensation one then experiences is indescribable. The air twangs and vibrates, and the vibrations seem to be communicated to one’s flesh and nerves — almost to the marrow of one’s bones. The detachment crouched down by the wheels of the ammunition wagon and the drivers sheltered behind their horses. At every moment we expected an explosion. One, two, three seconds passed — an hour. The instinct of self-preservation strong within me, I bent my shoulders and waited, trembling like an animal flinching from death. A flash! It seemed to fall at my feet. Shrapnel bullets whistled by like an angry wind.

But the column still remained motionless in the potato-field, which was so riddled by gun-fire that it was difficult to steer the vehicles between the shell craters.

Why were we waiting? How we wished that we could at least take up a position and reply to the enemy’s fire! It seemed to me that if only we could hear the roar of our .75’s the dread of those deathly moments would become less intense. But we seemed to be merely awaiting slaughter; the minutes dragged by and we still remained motionless.

Some shells, which for a moment I thought had actually grazed the limber, hurtled by and shook me from head to foot, making the armour behind which I was sheltering vibrate. Fortunately the ground was considerably inclined, and the projectiles burst farther back. I perspired with fear. . . . Yes, I was badly frightened. Nevertheless I knew that I should not run away, and that I should, if necessary, let myself be killed at my post. But the longing for action grew more and more insistent.

At last we started off again, progressing with difficulty across the furrowed field. The drivers could hardly manage their horses, which had been seized with panic and pulled in all directions.

Hutin gave me a nod:

“You are quite green, old chap!” he said.

“Well, if you could see your own face …” I answered.

A shell fell, throwing up a quantity of earth in front of the horses and wounding the centre driver of the ammunition wagon in the head,
killing him instantly.

“Forward!”

Near the crest of the hill we took up our position on the edge of an oat-field. The limbers went off to the rear to shelter somewhere in the direction of Latour, the steeple of which could be seen overtopping the trees in the valley on our left. Crouching behind the armoured doors of the ammunition wagons and behind the gun-shields, we awaited the order to open fire. But the Captain, kneeling down among the oats in front of the battery, his field-glasses to his eyes, could discover no target, for yonder, over the spreading woods of Ethe and Etalle, now occupied by the enemy, a thick mist was still floating. All round us, behind our guns, over our heads, and without respite, high-explosive and shrapnel shell of every calibre kept bursting and strewing the position with bullets and splinters. Death seemed inevitable. Behind the gun was a small pit in which I took refuge while we waited for orders. A big bay saddle-horse, with a gash in his chest from which a red stream flowed, stood motionless in the middle of the field.

What with the hissing and whistling of the shells, the thunder of the enemy’s guns, and the roar from a neighbouring 75 battery, it was impossible to distinguish the different noises in this shrieking inferno of fire, smoke, and flames. I perspired freely, my body vibrating rather than trembling. The blood seethed in my head and throbbed in my temples, while it seemed as if an iron girdle encircled my chest. Unconsciously, like one demented, I hummed an air we had been singing recently in the camp and which haunted me.

Trou la la, ga ne va guere;
Trou la la, ca ne va pas

Something brushed past my back. At first I thought I was hit, but the shell splinter had only torn my breeches.

The battery became enveloped in black, nauseating smoke. Somebody was groaning, and I got up to see what had happened. Through the yellow fog I saw – Sergeant Thierry stretched on the ground and the six numbers of the detachment crowding round him. The shell had burst under the chase of his gun, smashing the recoil-buffer, and effectually putting the piece out of action.

Kneeling side by side. Captain Bernard de Brisoult and Lieutenant Hely d’Oissel were scanning the horizon through their field-glasses. I admired them. The sight of these two officers, and of the Major who was quietly strolling up and down behind the battery, made me ashamed to tremble. I passed through a few seconds of confused but intense mental suffering. Then it seemed as though I was awakening from a sort of feverish delirium, full of horrible nightmares. I was no longer frightened. And, when I again took shelter, having nothing else to do as we were not firing, I found I had overcome my instincts, and no longer shook with fear.

A horrible smell filled the pit.

“Phew!” I ejaculated hoarsely, “what a stink!”

Peering down I perceived Astruc in the bottom of the hollow. In a voice which seemed to come from the bowels of the earth he replied:

“All right, old son ! Don’t you worry . . . it’s only me. I’m sitting in a filthy mess here, but all the same I wouldn’t give up this place for twenty francs!”

Over the crest of the hill came some infantry in retreat. The sound of the machine-guns approached and eventually became distinguishable from the roar of the artillery.

The enemy was advancing and we were giving way before them. Shells continued to fly over us, and entire companies of infantry fell back.

The officers consulted together.

“But what are we to do ? . . . There are no orders … no orders,” the Major kept repeating.

And still we waited. The Lieutenant had drawn his revolver and the gunners unslung their rifles. The German batteries, possibly afraid of hitting their own troops, ceased firing. At any moment now the enemy might set foot on the ridge.

“Limber up!”

The order was quickly carried out.

We had to carry Thierry, whose knee was broken, with us. He was suffering horribly and implored us not to touch him. In spite of his protests, however, three men lifted him on to the observation-ladder. He was very pale, and looked ready to faint.

“Oh!” he murmured. “You are hurting me! Can’t you finish me?”

The rest of the wounded, five or six in number, hoisted themselves without assistance on to the limbers and the battery swung down the Latour road at a quick trot.

We had lost the battle. I did not know why or how. I had seen nothing. The French right must have had to retire a considerable distance, for, ahead to the south-east, I saw shells bursting over the woods which that morning had been some way behind our lines. We were completely outflanked, and I was seized with qualms as to whether our means of retreat were still open. We crossed the railway, some fields, and a river in succession, and approached the chain of hills, wooded half-way up their slopes, which stretched parallel to the heights the army had occupied in the morning. These were doubtless to be our rallying positions. The drivers urged their horses onwards while the gunners, who had dismounted from the limbers in order to lighten the load, ran in scattered order by the side of the column. The narrow road we were following was badly cut up, the stones rolling from under the horses’ hoofs at every step. Half-way up the steep incline we found the way barred by an infantry wagon which had come to a standstill. A decrepit white horse was struggling in the shafts. The driver swore and hauled at the wheels, but the animal could not start.

One of the corporals shouted out: “Now then, get on, can’t you?”

Get on! … As if he could! The driver, without leaving hold of the wheel which he was preventing from going backwards, turned a distracted face towards us, almost crying with, baffled rage.

“Get on? How am I to get on?” We lent him a hand and succeeded in pushing his wagon into the field so that we could pass.

It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, and the heat was stifling. The battle seemed to have come to an end, and the only gun-shots audible came from far away on the left, near Virton and St. Mard.

The column stretched out in a long black line on the hill-side as we crawled upwards through the woods crowning the summit in order to find a road by which we might gain the plateau. The horizon gradually opened out before us. Suddenly, from the direction of Latour, a machine-gun began to crackle; I hurriedly lifted my hand to my ear like one who drives away a buzzing wasp.

“They’re firing at us!” cried Hutin.

Bullets began to hum past. Machine-guns had opened fire on us from the top of the positions we had just vacated. One of the horses, wounded, fell to its knees and was promptly unharnessed. A gunner, shot through the thigh, nevertheless continued to march.

Close by, in a valley where we were sheltered from the fire, we found a spot where one corner of the field cut a wedge out of the forest. Here we parked our three batteries and waited for orders. I saw at once how critical our position was. There was no road leading to the plateau through the wood, and several vehicles of the 10th Battery, which had ventured to try a bridle-path, soon found it impossible either to advance or go back.

One of the guns had sunk up to the axle in the muddy ground. The only means of retreat, therefore, was to cross the bare fields on the right or left and once again run the gauntlet not only of the machine-guns, but also, perhaps, of the enemy’s field artillery, which by now had had time to come up. The longer we waited the more problematical became our chances of escaping unscathed.

Besides, I could not help wondering how long the route across the plateau was likely to remain available. We were already out-flanked, and in front of us the Germans were still advancing down the crescent-shaped hills. They had doubtless already occupied Latour.

The Major still waited for orders. He hardly spoke a word, but every now and then his jaws contracted spasmodically — a sign of nervousness we soldiers knew well. He was “cracking nuts,” as the men say. He had dispatched a corporal to ask for instructions, but no one knew where the Staff was likely to be found at that hour. The army was in full retreat.

Eventually a dragoon galloped up and drew rein in front of our officers. We anxiously crowded round him. He brought information that the retreat of the army was being effected on the right by the Ruettes road. The enemy, he said, had already taken Latour, and was advancing towards Ville-Houdlemont.

The column immediately leapt into life. Lieutenant Hely d’Oissel, riding on alone ahead, showed us the way. Again the machine-guns broke out in the distance, but this time no bullets whistled past us. For a few moments we were stopped by a paling, which we broke down with our axes. The open space we had to cross was short — a meadow capping the rising ground between the trees. We eventually reached Ruettes by a narrow lane on both sides of which rose steep banks.

Near the church stood a General without any Staff, and accompanied solely by three Chasseurs.

The Tellancourt road was a veritable river.

In the breathless hurry and bustle of the retreat we had to make our way through the crowd by force. Such battalions as still possessed their Majors went on in front with the artillery column. And, tossed about from right to left Hke bits of cork in the swirl of a current, dragged this way and that in the eddies, sometimes pushed into the ditch, and sometimes carried off their feet by the torrent, the tattered remnants of troops surged down the road. Wounded, limping, many without rifle or pack, they made slow progress. Some made an effort to climb upon our carriages, and either hoisted themselves on to the ammunition wagons or let themselves be dragged along like automata.

While the retreat of the infantry divisions continued along the highway, we turned off down a steep road to the right and reached the plateau. The day was drawing to a close, and the shadow of the thick woods at Gueville, between us and the sun, was projected on to the side of the next hill. Here there were no stragglers, but the ditches were full of wounded, resting for a moment before continuing the painful ascent. Many of them looked as though they would never get up again. Some were lying half hidden in the grass.

There was already something skull-like about their faces; the eyes, wide open and bright with fever, stared fixedly from out their sunken sockets as though at something we could not see. Their matted hair was glued to their foreheads with sweat, which slowly trickled down the drawn, emaciated faces, leaving white zigzag furrows in the dirt of dust and smoke. Hardly one of the wounded was bandaged, and the blood had made dark stains on their coats and splashed their ragged uniforms. Not a complaint was to be heard. Two soldiers, without packs or rifles, were trying to help a little infantryman whose shoulder had been shattered by a shell, and who, deathly white and with closed eyes, wearily but obstinately shook his head, refusing to be moved. Others, wounded in the leg, still managed to hobble along with the aid of their rifles, which they used as crutches. They implored us to find place for them on the carriages.

We contrived to make room for them on the limbers. At every bump and jolt a big bugler, whose chest had been shot clean through by a bullet, gave a gasp of pain.

In the fields by the roadside lay torn and gaping packs, from which protruded vests, pants, caps, brushes, and other items of kit. The road itself was littered with boots, mess-tins, and camp-kettles crushed by the wheels and horses’ hoofs, shirts, bayonets, cartridge belts with the brass cases shining in the dust, kepis, and broken Lebel rifles. It was a sight to make one weep, and, despite myself, my thoughts went back to the retreat of August 1870, after Wissemboiurg and Forbach. . . . And yet for a month past we had heard continually of French victories, and had almost begun to picture Alsace reconquered and the road into Germany laid open. Nevertheless, at the first attack, here was our army routed ! With some astonishment I realized that I had taken part in a defeat.

We reached the edge of the Gueville woods, which were being defended by the 102nd Infantry. Arms and equipment still bestrew the road, which had also been cut up into ridges by the artillery and convoys. The wounded on our lurching and jolting wagons looked like men crucified.

I questioned the big bugler:

“Shall we stop? Perhaps this shakes you too much? ”

“No! Anything rather than fall into their hands.”

“Yes, but still . . .”

“No, no— that’s all right.”

And he bit his lips to avoid crying out. I was very tired, and my head felt at the same time heavy and yet light. My one desire was to sleep, no matter where.

Hardly were we out of the wood when the battery halted in a field full of wheat-sheaves near a village called La Malmaison. I threw myself down on some straw. If we stayed there we should certainly not even be able to sleep; the enemy was too close, and we should probably be attacked at night. And my one thought was to sleep, to get far enough away to sleep. I waited for the prophetic order “Unharness!” which would leave us in this field to fight again in an hour’s time — perhaps at once. But other orders arrived, and off we rumbled once more,
through La Malmaison, which we found congested with troops in disorder. Night fell. I had now reached the extreme limits of fatigue and began to be less conscious of what was going on around me. As if in a dream I saw the men huddled on the limber-boxes, their heads rolling on their shoulders, and the drivers lurching from side to side on their horses like drunken men. I still seem to hear a gunner of the 26th Artillery, who, sitting on the ammunition wagon, was telling how the three batteries which preceded us this morning on the road to Ethe were caught by the German machine-gun fire and taken in column formation, and how he himself had been able, thanks to the fog, to escape almost alone.

We went on through the night, our wagons creaking and ratthng with a sound almost like a sort of cannonade. One of the whips was dragging. . . . For a moment I thought I heard a machine-gun. . . . What an obsession! . . . The column rolled on through the darkness, the monotonous rumble of the wheels unbroken by an order or word of any kind.

About midnight, after a very long march, we again reached Torgny, and encamped there. The roll was not even called. I threw myself face-downwards on some hay in a barn, and it seemed to me, as I fell asleep, that I was dying.

Paul Lintier

Torgny, Belgium

Torgny, Belgium

To-day there was a fog when we awoke. Almost immediately the Captain gave the word to harness, and five o’clock had not yet struck when we started. The road was cut up into ruts by the artillery which for three days had been passing over it, and we were so shaken on the limbers that we could scarcely breathe.

Luckily the column was advancing at a walking pace.

The fog had collected at the end of the valley. On the right enormous and regularly formed mounds rose like islands out of the sea of mist. I could not take my eyes off their symmetrical curves, as perfect as those of Cybele’s breasts.

Farther on the road straggled across a plain, the ample undulations of which reminded one of the rise and fall of the ocean on days when there is a swell. In every direction it was studded with wheat sheaves, but there were few trees except an occasional group or line of poplars welded together by the fog in an indistinct mass of dark green foliage. Not a sound of battle was to be heard.

On the way we fell in with some baggage-trains and ambulances, and learnt from their drivers that the enemy was still far away.

Nevertheless the country had already been prepared for battle. A farmhouse by the roadside had been fortified, the windows barricaded with mattresses and small trusses of straw, while a few loopholes had been knocked in the garden wall. The fields were furrowed with trenches as far as the edge of a wood, where some abatis had been set up. Earthworks had been thrown up along the sides of the road, and in front were heaped ladders, a couple of harrows, a plough, a roller, and several bundles of straw. Two carts had been placed athwart the road, but they had been pushed one to each side and lay thrown back with their long shafts pointing upwards.

We still rolled on across this desolate country. So similar were its aspects that it almost seemed as if we were not advancing at all.

At last the fog lifted, and, suddenly, before we were able to guess that the end of the dreary scenery was near, a magnificent view opened out before us as if by enchantment. We were on the crest of a hill between two valleys, on one side of which thick woods descended in leafy terraces to the hollow of a narrow dell in which, through a meadow of vivid emerald green, a little black river trickled on its way. The forests surrounding this meadow, as if placed there in order to embellish and enhance its beauty, looked like a magnificent ruff of low-toned olive tints. In front of us, just where the road turned off at an angle, a spur of woodland rose with the forbidding aspect of a fortress. On the right, forming a contrast to the quiet and peaceful little river, a broad valley, with symmetrical slopes lightened here and there by corn standing yellow in the sun, opened out wide and invitingly. The river flowing through it was hardly visible, but the roads, villages, and the railway line were quite distinct. On the one hand lay Velosnes, and on the other Torgny, their white walls and red roofs showing up on the green background of the fields.

There was nothing in the scene to suggest that war was on foot, and gun-shots heard from a distance were no more startling than the noise of carriage wheels.

It was a fine morning, to which the mist, softening the outlines of the landscape, lent additional charm. The narrow S-shaped road we were following plunged into the valley. The horses made efforts to keep back the guns, and especially the ammunition wagons, which were pushing them down the slope. Their shoes slipping with the dislodged stones, they braced their backs ‘and felt their way cautiously.

The river at this point constituted the frontier between France and Belgium. A custom-house official was leaning up against the parapet of the bridge.

One of the men called out to him: “No fine linen or lace to-day, old man!”

And another: “Suppose there’s no duty on melinite, is there?”

The official grinned.

The first Belgian village, Torgny, afforded a contrast to the French hamlets through which we had been passing since dawn. Our villages are tumble-down, dirty, and redolent of manure and misery. Torgny, on the contrary, was clean and bright, the windows of the houses boasting not only curtains but even, sometimes, embroidered shades, while the shutters, doors, and window-joists were painted light green.

On all sides we were greeted with smiles by the placid and open-faced villagers. Through the windows of the cottages we could see red tiled floors, and in the semi-darkness of the interiors the glow of brasswork on stoves and lamps reflected by carefully polished furniture.

Our column halted in the village, the men carefully wedging the wheels of the vehicles to prevent them from backing down the slope. A woman and a fair, slightly built girl were sitting in front of their house, of which the lower half was a mass of wistaria. We asked them where the road led to, and a conversation began in which not only mother and daughter took part, but also the grand-mother, a wizened little woman with a wrinkled face out of which peered a pair of bright brown eyes; she had come out to see what was happening. They talked with a drawling sing-song accent, which nevertheless was in no way disagreeable to our ears.

“Have the Germans come as far as this?”

“Yes, they’ve come, only they didn’t do any harm. . . . They hadn’t the time. Five or six of them came down from the woods up there cavalrymen. But they went back almost at once. Some of the villagers saw them. There were also some French cavalry here, in blue and red uniforms.”

“Chasseurs?”

“I suppose so. They are so nice and polite. … At first, as there weren’t many of them, we almost quarrelled as to who should have them. When the Uhlans came out of the woods they saw the French and went in again.”

“And the Belgian soldiers?”

“Not seen any of them,” said the old lady. “But my granddaughter saw some at Arlon last year.”

“Yes,” chimed in the girl, “and they are better dressed than you.”

We prepared to make ourselves comfortable in the chairs which had been brought out for us, and chatted while waiting for the order to
advance.

“You ought to be very grateful to us,” said the grandmother. “We stopped them, and they hadn’t reckoned on that! They thought we were sheep and found we were lions yes, lions! They even say so themselves!”

We willingly acquiesced.

In future we shall always be able to count upon the goodwill of the Belgians, for we owe them a debt of gratitude. There is no more solid basis for affection than that which underlies the feelings of a benefactor towards his protege. Nothing is more soothing to the spirit than a sense of superiority and legitimate pride.

There can be no doubt but that the blood so bravely shed for us in Belgium will be productive of more friendship than twenty years of sustained efforts to maintain the French language and culture against the rising tide of Germanisation. And, forty years later, when we meet a Belgian, we may be sure that he will remind us, in his pleasing accent: “Yes, but you know . . . without us in …”

It will be a pleasure to him to recall all that France owes to his glorious little country. More, he will be grateful to us for the debt we owe her.

“Oh, of course it has cost us a lot to defend our neutrality,” said the old woman. “It is awful what the Germans have done in our country. They seem to have a special hatred for the women. There was one down there. . . . We knew her quite well. . . . And they first cut off her breasts . . . and then disembowelled her. . . . And they’ve done that to countless others! Oh! it’s too awful! They must be worse than savages. You must tell your people about it, when you get back about that, and about everything else we’ve had to suffer. But you won’t do the same when you get into Germany, will you?”

She added: “I am very old over seventy and I had never seen war in Belgium.”

The poor old woman spoke almost without anger, but in a trembling voice and with infinite sadness.

We encamped at Torgny. As soon as the horses had been picketed and the oats distributed, Deprez and I hurried to the wistaria windows to ask if we could buy a little milk and some eggs. The old woman was most upset; it seemed that she had already given everything to the Chasseurs. But she sent us a little farther on to the house of one of her daughters who, she said, would milk the cow for us. She added:

“We’ve a good loft here, where you would be quite comfortable and warm in the straw. So come back to sleep in any case.”

We knocked at the door she had pointed out to us a couple of houses farther on, and were received as though we had been expected.

“It’s some artillerymen, mother,” said a young woman, who was nursing a child in her arms. “They want some milk.”

Her mother came out of the next room.

“I’ll go and milk the cow,” said she. “Good evening, messieurs; please sit down; you must be tired.”

Lucas had somehow managed to find some eggs.

“Shall we make you an omelette with bacon?” asked the daughter. “It won’t take long. But do sit down. I’m sure you’ve been standing
about enough to-day!”

Almost immediately the fat began to sizzle in the pan.

At every moment infantrymen and Chasseurs knocked at the door, and the two women distributed the milk from their cow, refusing all payment. When there was no more left they were quite wretched at having to disappoint the men who continually arrived on various
quests.

“We’ve given all we had. I’m so sorry!” they said. “We’ve only a small bowl left for the baby. You see, we’ve only one cow!”

A Chasseur brought back a kettle he had borrowed; another asked for the loan of a grid-iron. Never has Frenchman been more warmly welcomed in France.

The fair-haired girl, with whom we had been talking shortly before, came back carrying an earthenware milk-jug in her hand.

“Have you any milk, auntie? There are some soldiers who want a little. They’re ill, some of them.”

“Oh, darling, I’m so sorry! There are only a few drops left for baby!”

“Oh, dear! . . .”

The girl saw us seated at table round the smoking omelette, and smiled at us as though we were old acquaintances. I told her that if I ever returned home I should perhaps write a book about what I had seen in the war.

“And will you please tell me your name, so that I can send you the book as a souvenir to you and your family. You have all been so good to us Frenchmen.”

“My name is Aline, Aline Badureau.”

“What a pretty name Aline”

She prepared to go.

“I hope that you will return home,” she said to me, “so that you can send us your book. But I’m sure you’ll forget. They say that French-men forget very soon.”

I protested vehemently.

Paul Lintier

Moirey-Flabas-Crépion, France

Moirey-Flabas-Crépion, France

The first gun has a team which is the joy of the whole battery. This is owing to Astruc and his off-horse Jericho. Astruc, with bright brown eyes and a face like a carrion-crow, is not much taller than a walking-stick and has hardly any legs. Jericho is a vicious brute that kicks, bites, and refuses to be groomed. Astruc holds long conversations with him, and every morning greets him like one greets an old friend who is a little crabbed, but of whom one is really fond:

“Well, Jericho, old boy, what have you got to say? Have you been dreaming of German mares?”

Brejard pointed out to Astruc that Jericho is a gelding.

“Oh!” retorted Astruc, “I expect he gets ideas in his head all the same.”

But to-day Jericho was in a specially bad temper, and wouldn’t let himself be bridled in order to be led down to the watering-place.

“What’s up, old chap?” asked Astruc. “Oh, I see what you want! You haven’t had your quid this morning, have you? . . . It’s your quid you’re after.”

And he held out in the hollow of his hand a pinch of tobacco which the horse swallowed with avidity. When Astruc is astride his near-horse, Hermine, Jericho bites his boot, and the more Astruc whips him the harder he clenches his teeth.

“Well,” says Astruc, “I bet that if I leave Jericho in a melee he’ll eat as many Boches as he can get his teeth into. If only we’d a hundred more like him !”

And looking the horse full in the face he added:

“It’s odd, you know! The brute’s got a naughty twinkle in his eyes . . . just like one of those girls. . . .”

A corps of pontoon engineers passed by our camp, their long, steel-plated boats loaded on carts, keel uppermost. Some foundered horses, tied behind the vehicles, followed with hanging head and limping step, a look of suffering in their bleared eyes a pitiful sight.
Far down the road, winding its way through the long valley and white under the morning sun, one could see the column toiling up a hill as if ascending to the blue sky. At that distance men and horses seemed no more than a swarm of black ants, but the steel bottoms of the boats still glinted in the sunshine. In front of us the long line still passed slowly by. The men’s health is excellent, but the horses stand this new life less successfully. Last Friday we had to leave one on the road, and yesterday an old battery horse named Defricheur died in his turn. We had to prepare a grave for him, and four men had been digging for more than an hour in the hard and rocky ground when the mayor of Moirey arrived on the scene. The grave had been dug too close to the houses, so they had to drag the heavy carcass farther on and begin digging again. Unfortunately the measurements of the new grave had been badly calculated, and Defricheur, a proper gendarme’s horse, could not be crammed into it. The men were heartily tired of digging and so, with a few blows of their spades and picks, they broke his legs and folded them under his belly, so that at last he could be squeezed into the pit.

The hill which had limited our horizon at Villa-devant-Chaumont was still to be seen rising on the east in solitary splendour, its outlines traced as if by compasses. Beneath the azure sky it shone like a mass of burnished bronze.

Moirey lies in the lap of a valley and consists of a few dilapidated cottages roofed with broken tiles. No matter from which side one goes away from the village it is instantly hidden by an intervening spur of the hills, so that one can only see the top of the roofs and the short, rectangular steeple covered with slates.

As we were grooming our horses in a field through which a brook bubbled along amid the iris, a bevy of white-capped girls came down from the village.

The only means of getting over the river was a narrow bridge. This we barred by standing a couple of horses athwart it, and, by way of toll, demanded kisses. The girls, their rosy-cheeked faces smiling under the spreading butterfly-wings of their caps, at first hesitated. Then one of them took a run, jumped, and splashed into the water.

The others learnt wisdom from her example and decided to pay the toll.

“Come on now! Just one kiss, you know!” said Deprez. “That’s not so dear in war-time!”

They paid conscientiously.

Paul Lintier

Moirey-Flabas-Crépion, France

Moirey-Flabas-Crépion, France

Lucas, the cyclist of the battery, succeeded in finding two bottles of champagne, which he hid in a corner of the guard-house where Le Bidois, who was on sentry duty, kept an eye on them.

Lucas is a young draughtsman of talent. His character is faithfully reflected by his face fresh, mobile, perhaps a little feminine. You meet him in the morning and he seizes you by the arm :

“Oh, my dear chap . . . such a pretty little woman … a perfect dream! . . .”

And the same evening he will say: “Oh, my dear chap . . . such a fraud. . . . No, not a word. I . . . What a fraud!”

It appears that at Damvillers, a neighbouring village, he has made the conquest of a little woman who sells tobacco. And he still manages to get hold of cigarettes, writing-paper, liqueurs, and even champagne, whereas no one else has been able to lay hands on any of these luxuries for some time past.

When night fell he gave us a sign, and Deprez and I followed him to the door of the guard-house in which loomed the lanky figure of Le Bidois, who was leaning on his sword. The guard-house is an old tumble-down hut only kept erect by the ivy growing round it. The door only boasts one hinge, and the worm-eaten steps leading to the loft are crumbling into dust. But still we found it a snug enough place in which to drink our champagne.